Okay, first things first…
…travelling is a different experience for everyone. We all enjoy traveling in different ways, enjoy seeing different things and so on. Keep this in mind when reading my travel blogs. These are my experiences, opinions, and thoughts. In order to know exactly what a town, city or country is like, you need to experience it for yourself!
I am going to try and inspire your wanderlust side and give you tips for when you take on these unique and incredible places for yourself! That being said…
Let’s go to AMSTERDAM!
A city on many people’s bucket list I am sure, it was definitely on mine. Seen in movies, spoken about by the avid travelers, and all those “what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam” tales made me curious and stirred the desire to visit this interesting city.
So when we moved to Europe and Stew told me he had a conference there and I could go with, I was pretty amped! Finally, I was going to see the legendary Amsterdam! There were certain things I knew I wanted to see or experience like the windmills, ride a bike through the streets, see the tulips and yes, smoke a joint. But to be honest, I didn’t have a plan for the visit, I kind of just intended to wing it.
Oh before I forget, this was going to be the very first time I did a solo travel trip. Stew went early for the conference and I joined him a few days later, so I traveled from Siegen to Amsterdam all on my own! Yes, this is a big deal! I am a nervous person, and I had never done anything like this before so I was super impressed with myself.
Getting to Amsterdam
Okay, so like I said, I had to travel to Amsterdam from Siegen (Germany). Stew is all about apps these days before I even think of looking for one he’s already downloaded 5! There is an awesome app called GoEuro that is EPIC for finding different modes of travel! You can see what is easier, cheaper, book them and have your ticket online. This may not be news to you, but being from South Africa, this was new to me and so worth mentioning.
So using the nifty app, I booked my train trip to Amsterdam. My route was from Siegen to Cologne, change trains and then straight to Amsterdam Central. Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy! I must say I quite enjoyed traveling by train, it’s very calming and the scenery is pretty awesome too!
*TIPS: All you need to do is make sure you:
- Know the times of your train and be there at least 30 min before to make sure that nothing has changed and find the platform
- Have your ticket (printed or you have it on the app on your phone #convenient),
- Bring a good book or movies on your phone/iPad/laptop,
- and bring SNACKS!
Where to stay in Amsterdam
I made it! What was I even worried about? Travelling is AMAZING!
Okay, so the plan in terms of accommodation in Amsterdam was that we were staying in the hotel that Stew was booked in for the conference for the Thursday night (the day I arrived) and then we stayed in an Airbnb the next 2 nights.
There are tons of B&Bs, Hotels and Airbnb’s, you just have to do a bit of research and find what suits your travel style and budget.
Night 1: The hotel Stew was booked in wasn’t in Amsterdam itself, it was in Zaandam, just a really short train trip away. It is one of the most photographed hotels in Amsterdam – so I am told. Do yourself a favour, and just check out this hotel – Inntel Hotel Zaandam. It is insanely cool! The room was awesome, modern, clean, comfortable, epic views and delicious breakfast!
Zaandam itself is quite a cute little town. It has a great mixture of shops and restaurants, busy but not crowded and a great spot to stay in if you don’t want to sleep inside Amsterdam itself.
Night 2: So the hotel was a bit too expensive for us to stay in the rest of the weekend (we did just move from SA to Europe so you can understand). Not to mention the hotel was fully booked, so book early! So next stop, Airbnb. Stew and I used Airbnb accommodation for most of our honeymoon in Italy and often in SA, so we were completely cool with using it again.
So just a note, when I did my Airbnb search, most of the accommodation I found was a room in someone else’s flat. Yes, this is not always comfortable and can be awkward.
I wasn’t too keen at first, so I made sure to find a place that had:
- Lots of reviews – good ones
- Had its own bathroom so that you don’t have to share with the owners (less awkward that way)
- And I looked for the best photos (I know they are not always accurate, but it made me feel better)
I ended up finding a really cool place in Oostpoort (the Muiderpoort train stop), also just 1 train stop and a short walk from Amsterdam City. It was a room, bathroom and small kitchenette (coffee essentials and basics). Perfect for us, and we got to see another little town so that was a bonus!
And there was the most amazing bakery called Le Perron that made ridiculously delicious croissants and this apple pastry that I STILL dream of!
What to do in Amsterdam
Okay, so I made it to Amsterdam Central Station… what now? As I mentioned before, I had no plan except getting myself there safely. CHECK!
Stew managed to quickly meet me at the station and explain how to get to Zaandam so I could drop my bags off and we agreed to meet after his conference, but until then I was on my own. YAY! This was another opportunity to grow, and personal growth is good so yay me! So I bought a ticket to Zaandam and so my adventure began!
*Tip: If you are going to be in Amsterdam for a while and need to take trains often, then definitely invest in weekly tickets or tickets that are valid for a few days and include museums etc. you will save money this way. Here are some websites to help, or simply go to the ticket office when you get there, they are VERY helpful and friendly!
My Amsterdam Activity Recommendations
These are in no particular order, they are just what we did and as I remember them.
See the Zaanse Schans Windmills
Zaandam is really cool as I said. It isn’t a place to make a trip or if you are in Amsterdam for a short time, BUT, it is a great starting point if you want to go see the Zaanse Schans Windmills. There are plenty of tours that you can take by bus (you can check some out here). As I said, we were on a budget so we found a cooler way to tick two bucket list activities off with one stone. We rented bikes in Zaandam and cycled to the Zaanse Schans Windmills (20 min cycle, very very easy). It was epic! The cycle was easy, away from the swarms of cyclists in Amsterdam City, and a fun way of getting to the windmills. The windmills themselves are an awesome sight!
A really cool little town, with picturesque houses and gardens right next to the windmills. And the smell of chocolate in the air… wowza! Our mouths were watering the whole time we were there! There is a cool shop in the one windmill that makes its own authentic hot chocolate, so be prepared for the yumminess! There are some boat trips that go to and from the windmills from what we saw, and a museum that you can visit as well.
Walk/cycle through the streets of Amsterdam
Yup, you’ve probably seen pictures yourself or heard it 1000 times, but Amsterdam’s streets and canals are something out of this world. You can get lost walking through them and never get bored! Each building is so unique, each view from the bridges is special and you are constantly surrounded by a multitude of people from all over the world. Although, when Stew and I were there it felt like the whole of Italy had decided to visit Amsterdam on the same weekend!
The buildings really are so cool to see. Amsterdam itself is sinking (if you didn’t know, no stress, neither did I), so most of the buildings are leaning on their neighbours, or sinking lower than the ones next to them. Although this is a tragic thing, in the long run, it definitely makes for incredible sightseeing. Stew and I basically walked the entire city… we didn’t rent bikes because to be honest the number of cyclists there are in the city is ridiculous. Honestly, I have never seen anything like it. If you rent a bike, make sure you check out basic cycling rules and be vigilant because there are almost as many pedestrians, as well as trams and cars. Here is a cool bike sightseeing tour that you can go on and enjoy the city on 2 wheels.
Okay, so we did not make it to the gardens (sigh). We were trying to keep costs low and were a bit late to book tickets in the end so we missed it. BUT, plenty of research was done and it would or should have been top of the list of things to do. Thousands and thousands of tulips, in ALL shapes and colours. It is something out of a dream! The key to visiting the gardens is to book online way before time (they sometimes have specials). Make sure you get tickets for a bus there and back to Amsterdam as well as entrance to the garden. You can check some packages out here.
See the floating flower market (Bloemenmarkt)
As you may have heard, The Netherlands is well known for their beautiful tulips. Once you’ve seen them at the Keukenhof Gardens and all around the city, it is easy to feel the need to buy some bulbs for your own garden. If so or even if not, the floating Bloemenmarkt is still an epic sight to visit. You can buy a wide variety of different tulip bulbs as well as some awesome trinkets and curios.
The Red Light District
So again, each to their own opinion. I was curious and pretty ready to see what all the fuss was about. First off, ignorant me thought it was just a long street with windows of half-naked ladies looking for customers. It’s not… it is a few blocks of coffee shops and apartments AS WELL AS the windows with half-naked ladies which have a red light above the window –hence the name Red Light District. I will Say this, seeing the district at night is quite cool, the lights and atmosphere make the area buzz with excitement. It is also worth considering seeing it via canal cruise or taking a walking tour. Personally, as interesting as it was walking through the district and seeing this crazy different place, it wasn’t a personal favourite of mine #eachtotheirown.
Ah yes… we can’t forget the famous museums this culturally rich city has! *BOOK IN ADVANCE TO AVOID LINES and to plan your trip!
- The Rijksmuseum: Many people favour this museum over the Van Gogh, but as I have said many times before… we all have different tastes. It is PACKED with art and artifacts that showcase years and years’ worth of global history, including paintings by the famous Rembrandt and van Gogh
- The Van Gogh Museum: Yup, it is all about van Gogh here, where over 200 of his works are displayed. It is right across the Rijksmuseum so they can be seen one after the other. Make sure to check online before booking as sometimes some of the paintings are not on display as they are taken to different museums. #avoiddisappointment
- Anne Frank Museum: This was on the top of my To Do list! I love history! And experiencing just a fraction of what Anne must have experienced and imagined what she felt is an indescribable feeling. Seeing the building is a bit of an anti-climax… I was expecting an old building bearing the marks of war, but alas, when you turn something into a museum, modernization is bound to happen. The line was insane! You can wait all day in it and not make it to the front, so BOOK IN ADVANCE AND GET THERE EARLY!
Eat a stroopwafel… or 10!
They are a MUST and they are addictive. You can have them plain and buy them in packs of 5 – 10. OR have them with toppings. Who cares how or what kind, but eat them you MUST! *maybe buy a pack to snack on during your adventures through the city.
De Poezenboot (The Cat Boat)
This will be a MUST for all you animal lovers out there. There is a houseboat close to the train station that looks after cats until they can find a new home. It runs completely on donations and volunteers. You can go visit them during certain house and give love to the cats. Such an incredible cause, so please visit and leave a small donation.
Okay, so I am not sure how many of you have watched The Fault in Our Stars… I am guessing almost all of you because it is AMAZING! So one mission I set for myself was to find THE iconic bench. You know, the bench at the Leidsegracht canal, where the very romantic scene takes place! So off I went, the lone adventurer, walking the beautiful streets of Amsterdam in search for the romantic bench.
Luckily it was early in the morning so the streets were quiet and I managed to find it quite easily! I kind of chased an old lady off it, she saw me staring at the bench and realised I wanted to sit so she got up for me. THANKS, LADY :). I Sat for a while and just soaked in the magic of the city and the beauty of the moment (even though it was fictional it was still beautiful). I just allowed myself to be grateful for the opportunity to be there, healthy and happy.
Am I High Yet?
You have probably been waiting to read about my weed experience, so here it is. First off, there are quite a few coffee shops out there. I REALLY wanted to go to Barneys (my friends told me about it so I wanted to go there), but never managed to. This was meant to be an experience Stew and I shared together, but he already ate a brownie before I arrived and his reaction was not so good (karma for doing it without me hehe). So he didn’t want to do it again. BUT I was determined
So on our walk back from the Rijksmuseum, we stumbled upon a place that looked quite decent and I jumped on the opportunity. There was a menu on the wall with basic options – brownies (I wasn’t too keen at that point because of Stew’s experience), buy the weed, buy joints etc. So being a weed noob I asked the lady at the counter what she would recommend. After some basic elimination processes, I went with a standard joint that was going to make me feel “happy”.
We took a seat in the café and lit it up! Stew seemed a bit serious throughout this process might I add. So I went about smoking my joint… probably too quickly might I add. The mellowness started setting in but really that’s all I felt. Very chilled out – so naturally I was like “weed doesn’t work on me”. I was a bit disappointed, I was hoping for the giggles and some blurry vision or something. Stew was quite surprised. So we left and made our way back to the station.
It was only while we were walking that I realised everything seemed to be going very slow… even raising my eyebrows was a slow movement. The walk seemed to take forever. And everyone around me seemed to be extra fascinating. By the time we got to the station, I was a bit peckish, quite sleepy, but fine. So that’s it, such an anti-climax!
- Next time try the brownie (even if it’s just a bite).
- Don’t get high alone – the people you are with make a difference and you will probably find things funnier if you are both high (Stew was quiet, probably worried about my reaction, so I was quiet too – but I love and appreciate him looking out for me and would not have done it with anyone else first).
- Have one non-high person with you in case your reaction is bad and you need help calming down or getting home.
About those chips…
So as you walk down the main street, as you are out of the train station, there are a whole lot of fast food joints and a particular chip shop that claimed to be “the best fries in the whole of The Netherlands”. The line from that shops was ridiculously long, all day long. And what people were holding once they made it to the front looked and smelt AMAZING! So as the last stop after my weed experience on the way back, we decided to finally get some chips. They smelt so good and I couldn’t eat them fast enough!
BUT, they did taste a bit stale…or of old oil. So the point I am trying to make, not all the places that say they are “the best” are actually the best. We ended up going on like a 10 km walk trying to feel better after those chips. The walk, which btw was meant to be a max 5km walk to a little town of houses that were floating above water (Stew really wanted to see them), ended up being MUCH further than 5 km and a VERY disappointing end destination – thank you Stewart.
I am sure there is so much more to do in Amsterdam that I have not added here. Like I said, our time was short and funds limited. But we experienced the city, and that’s the main thing about being in Amsterdam… the city itself is the drawing card. Even if all you do is just walk through the city and eat some stroopwafels, you will have experienced a day in a beautiful city unlike any other.
I really enjoyed our trip, I learned a lot about myself and about the world. I had a lot of FIRSTS and a few NEVER AGAIN, but that is what makes every second of exploring worth it! You will never know until you experience or try something for yourself! Oh, the stories I will tell one day…